Earlier this year, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) was forced by redistricting to make a choice: move his family or challenge his colleague Rep. Mondaire Jones (D) for his seat. Maloney chose the latter—setting off an intra-party firestorm in the process.
Jones, in order to avoid the incumbent face-off, chose to run in a neighboring district and lost in the primary.
Now, six months after pushing Jones aside, Maloney’s decision may come back to haunt him. Because that very same district Maloney fought to seize might just vote him out.
With two weeks left until election day, Cook Political Report changed their forecast for the 17th from “Lean Dem” to “Toss-up” - meaning Maloney is in trouble.
Republican PACs have been funneling cash into the district, helping to propel Maloney’s challenger, state assemblyman Mike Lawler (R). Republican surrogates like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise are hitting the trail in support of the GOP nominee. Internal polling from Lawler’s campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee show Lawler ahead—including by 6 points in a poll conducted earlier this month.
That’s all on top of the innate hurdles Maloney faces after choosing to run in the 17th. For much of the district, he’s not their incumbent, meaning he’s tasked with introducing himself to new voters in a time crunch. Lawler must do this too, of course.
“We sacrificed the incumbency advantage—both [Jones and Maloney] would have had an incumbency advantage,” one Democratic pollster told The Daily Beast.
Onlookers of the race say its competitive nature shouldn’t be a surprise, given the district is only marginally favorable toward Democrats. Maloney has admitted he’s worried about his standing—though his campaign still didn’t openly fret about the Cook Political ratings change.
Maloney spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg told The Daily Beast, “This race is and always has been competitive.”
Democrats and Republicans have both been employing their most-used 2022 talking points in full force with voters in the Hudson Valley. Maloney’s calling his opponent “MAGA Lawler” and pinning the assemblyman as an anti-abortion threat. Lawler’s taking the crime-route, which has been utilized by Republican hopefuls from coast to coast.
“Republicans have spent millions against me and their numbers still say MAGA Mike Lawler is losing… Lawler is just another Trump errand boy who will be too busy taking away your reproductive rights to deliver for the Hudson Valley,” Maloney said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
“The Cook ratings change should come as no surprise… The Maloney campaign is in full meltdown,” said William F. B. O’Reilly, a spokesman for Lawler’s campaign.
The political environment in New York has also been supercharged in recent months due to the tightening race between New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin. Democratic operatives who spoke with The Daily Beast speculated advertising from statewide races—of which there is plenty—has likely bolstered party-line sentiments at the district level.
To be sure, Maloney’s original district would have been a swing seat as well. But switching districts—and burning bridges while doing it—can come at a cost.
Chris Coffey, a New York Democratic strategist, told The Daily Beast Maloney’s maneuvering in the primary could have turned some progressive voters off.
“You could have the people that are responsible for turning out Dems, right, whether it's the church leader or the community leader, the district leader or whatever, whoever. If you have a bunch of those people that are like very, very loyal to Mondaire Jones, that could stymie some turnout. And even if it's not a huge number, it's going to be a close race,” Coffey said.
Local political leaders still think Maloney has it in the bag—suggesting the congressman has high name recognition in the district, even though he’d be new representation. Suzanne Berger, chair of the Westchester County Democrats, which makes up part of the 17th district, told The Daily Beast, “We've known all along that Assemblyman Lawler was a strong challenger… but I'm still confident that when the votes are counted, Congressman Maloney will be reelected.”
John Gromada, chair of the Rockland County Democrats, said he thinks progressive voters have worked through any primary woes, and recognize the stakes of this contest. National strategists have long forecasted that Republicans will take back the House this November—but if Democrats are to retain control, they’ll need every win they can get.
“I see people mobilizing. So I think that, you know, a little bit of a scare here is actually going to help people get out and in turn everyone out,” Gromada said.
Maloney’s progressive primary challenger, Alessandra Biaggi, who lost to the congressman by approximately 33 points, has also campaigned alongside him in the general election.
Coffey said he tends to believe Maloney still wins the race, but noted that its increasingly competitive nature is forcing Democrats to be “spending resources on the race that they would rather spend in, you know, the 18th and 19th or wherever else.”
The Democratic pollster said they wouldn’t be shocked if Maloney couldn’t eke it out—and warned there might be cause for reflection if he doesn’t.
“If he loses a lot of people are going to wonder why he forced Mondaire out,” the pollster said.